Realistic MLB Trades That Could Happen in 2021 Offseason
Most of the focus on MLB offseason roster moves will be on the free agents, who will become eligible to sign with new teams somewhere in the Nov. 4-8 range, depending on how long the World Series lasts.
But offseason trades can also have a big impact on expectations for the year ahead.
Just last December, San Diego dealt for Yu Darvish and Blake Snell on the same day and instantly became one of the favorites to win the National League. In early January, the Mets made their move for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco. And then the Cardinals got Nolan Arenado in early February.
None of those teams ended up even making it to the NLDS this year, but we do typically see at least a few substantial names/contracts on the move during the winter.
So, what are a few swaps that could make sense for the next few months?
We've put together five hypothetical trades that figure to benefit both clubs. They aren't all as big as Lindor or Arenado, but we're not going to waste your time with "backup utility man for cash considerations" proposals. In each of these five deals, the centerpiece is slated to make more than $7 million in 2022—$23 million in the most noteworthy case.
Just do me a favor and don't grade me on these until at least Christmas. Significant trades usually don't happen within the first few weeks of free agency, as most teams are waiting to see if they can fix their problems without giving up anything in return.
Trey Mancini Leaves the Bird Nest
The Trade: Baltimore's Trey Mancini to Tampa Bay for Cole Wilcox and cash
Trading away a fan favorite is always a painful proposition.
But let's be real: Baltimore is not competing in the loaded AL East in 2022. The Orioles finished 39 games behind the fourth-place Blue Jays this year, and next season might not go any better. So, they might as well try to get something in return for a guy hitting free agency one year from now.
Trey Mancini missed the 2020 campaign with colon cancer, but he played in 147 games this past season with a .255 batting average and 21 home runs. And that's after he ran out of gas over the latter third of the season. Through his first 97 games, Mancini had an OPS of .827 and was on a 162-game pace of 32 home runs.
He is arbitration-eligible for the upcoming season, and Spotrac estimates his 2022 salary at $8 million. That's a small price to pay for a 1B/DH with good power, so the bidding war for acquiring Mancini's services could be interesting if his name is floated out there during winter meetings.
One team sure to be interested is Tampa Bay, which probably isn't going to re-sign DH Nelson Cruz even if the 41-year-old opts to play another season. The Rays could also benefit from another option in the first base rotation following a second consecutive mediocre year from Ji-Man Choi.
How much the Rays would be willing to give up for one year of Mancini's services is the big question, but minor league right-handed pitcher Cole Wilcox seems like a good starting point.
Wilcox was one of the players Tampa Bay got in return for Blake Snell last winter. He was a third-round pick in the 2020 draft who had a 2.03 ERA in 10 starts with the Charleston RiverDogs (Single A) in 2021. However, Wilcox had Tommy John surgery in September and will most likely miss all of 2022 as a result, so it might be another three or four years before he's ready for the big leagues. Considering it might be another three or four years before Baltimore truly competes again, though, that could be a great long-term deal for the O's.
Angels Re-Acquire Mike Clevinger
The Trade: San Diego's Mike Clevinger to the Angels for Kyren Paris and cash
The starting pitching market is about to be flooded with ridiculously big names. Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman top a long list of major arms hitting free agency.
The Los Angeles Angels will be very interested in that market, considering—with Alex Cobb and Dylan Bundy on their way out the door—their 2022 starting rotation is currently looking like Shohei Ohtani and a whole bunch of question marks.
In Cobb, Bundy, Albert Pujols and Dexter Fowler, the Angels do have a substantial amount of money coming off the books this winter. However, with more than $101 million tied up in Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Justin Upton next season, they're not exactly in a position to go out and get Scherzer and Kershaw. Maybe one, but not both. They're going to need to make at least one budget-savvy move to fill out the rotation, and the Padres should be able to help.
San Diego currently has six starting pitchers—Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Mike Clevinger, Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack—under contract through next season, plus 2018 first-round pick Ryan Weathers (18 starts in 2021) still on a rookie deal through 2023.
While they certainly don't need to deal any of those guys, they could absolutely afford to move one or two. And most likely, they would prefer to move either Clevinger ($8 million in 2022; free agent in 2023) or Musgrove (estimated $8.8 million in 2022; free agent in 2023).
The asking price for either would be high, but Musgrove's would probably be higher since he was, by no small margin, San Diego's most reliable starter in 2021 while Clevinger missed the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery this past November.
Clevinger was drafted by the Angels back in 2011, but they traded him to Cleveland for Vinnie Pestano in 2014. The reliever logged just 21.1 innings with the Angels before his MLB career ended, so the Angels would surely love a do-over on that deal.
They have enough promising middle-infield prospects that they could part with 2019 second-round pick Kyren Paris. In 47 games in the low minors this season, Paris hit .267 and stole 22 bases. Perhaps he could be San Diego's replacement for Adam Frazier in 2023.
Padres Use That Clevinger Money to Improve the Outfield
The Trade: Arizona Diamondbacks trade David Peralta to San Diego for Ethan Elliott
In an ideal world, this trade and the previous one on our list would just be a three-team deal in which the Angels get Mike Clevinger, the Padres get David Peralta and the Diamondbacks get a prospect or two. But three-team deals are rather rare, so we're just going to address them separately.
In David Peralta and Kole Calhoun, the going-nowhere-fast Diamondbacks have a pair of intriguing, not that expensive outfielders in their mid-30s who will be hitting free agency after the 2022 season. Peralta carries an $8 million price tag, while Calhoun—unless they exercise the $2 million buyout clause—is slated to cost the Diamondbacks $9 million next year.
No one expects this team to compete for a playoff spot next season, and neither of those outfielders is going to be part of the long-term rebuilding process. Maybe Arizona decides to wait until the July 2022 trade deadline to move Peralta and/or Calhoun, but the D-backs should at least be fielding offers at the winter meetings.
And with Tommy Pham hitting free agency this winter and Wil Myers no longer looking like the guy they signed to a six-year, $83 million deal before the 2017 season—not to mention the possibility of a universal DH implemented as early as next season—the Padres certainly figure to be in the market for another outfield bat, even if it is just on a one-year rental.
Unless there's a substantial difference in asking price, Peralta would likely be San Diego's preference. Not only does he have both a career batting average and a career slugging percentage more than 30 points better than those of Calhoun, but he predominantly plays left field while Calhoun has played all of 22 innings somewhere other than right field over the past eight seasons. Pham was the Padres' primary left fielder, so that plug-and-play solution makes more sense for them.
In exchange for Peralta, the Padres could afford to part with left-handed, double-A pitcher Ethan Elliott—and the Diamondbacks could absolutely afford to both shed salary and add an arm who might help their woeful pitching staff.
Byron Buxton Upgrades from a Twin to a Queens
The Trade: Minnesota Twins send Byron Buxton to New York Mets for Ronny Mauricio and cash
Over the final 32 games of the 2021 season, Michael Conforto made 29 starts in right field for the Mets, Javier Baez made 28 starts at second base and Jonathan Villar made 28 starts, mostly at third base. But with all three of those guys, All-Star pitcher Marcus Stroman and key reliever Aaron Loup now free agents, New York has some serious wheeling and dealing to do this winter.
Perhaps one of those deals will include betting on Byron Buxton staying healthy for a change.
Over the past three seasons with the Twins, Buxton has batted .277/.321/.575 and averaged 36.4 home runs per 162 games played. He also won a Gold Glove in 2017 and might finally be the answer New York has been searching for in center field for many years.
But he has also played in better than 65 percent of his team's games just once (in 2017) in his seven-year career and missed 101 games this past season.
Even with an estimated price tag of just $7.5 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility before hitting free agency, counting on Buxton for anything has to be a calculated risk.
It's unlikely Minnesota will be able/willing to re-sign him next winter to the type of multiyear, eight-figure contract his talent deserves. But the Twins won't just be giving away the No. 2 pick from the 2012 MLB draft in exchange for a pu pu platter of prospects.
New York is going to need to swing big, because if no team does, the Twins would be more than content to keep him and perhaps make a blockbuster deal next summer if he's healthy and the team is in the AL Central basement once again.
In theory, highly touted shortstop prospect Ronny Mauricio is expendable, since the Mets are already committed to paying shortstop Francisco Lindor $34.1 million per year for the next decade. Mauricio alone might not be enough to entice the Twins, so the Mets would likely need to throw in some cash as well.
Houston Makes a Big Move for Another Ace
The Trade: Arizona Diamondbacks trade Madison Bumgarner to Houston for prospects and salary relief
The Houston Astros do still owe Zack Greinke $12.5 million in deferred money in each of the next five seasons, but with the combined $65 million they were paying to Greinke and Justin Verlander in each of the past two seasons no longer weighing them down, they can go out and upgrade a starting rotation that—aside from Lance McCullers Jr.—turned into a dumpster fire in October.
That might mean winning the Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw free-agency sweepstakes and/or it might mean dealing for an ace who is already under contract for the next three seasons.
Madison Bumgarner does have a five-team partial no-trade clause on the five-year, $85 million deal he signed with Arizona two years ago, and best I can tell, we've never been informed who those five teams are. Perhaps Houston is one of them and this is even more of a waste of breath than the rest of these hypothetical deals.
But let's assume he would at least be willing to relocate to Houston.
Would Arizona be willing to move him?
MadBum is still owed $65 million over the remainder of his contract, including $15 million of money deferred until 2025-27. For a club that otherwise did not pay anyone more than $10.4 million in 2021 and that otherwise isn't on the hook for any individual salary north of $9 million in 2022, getting out from under all that money owed to Bumgarner—while adding some young talent in the process—could be just the catalyst this franchise needs for a rapid rebuild.
And for the Astros, $65 million for three years of Bumgarner's services seems like an easy decision.
They already have McCullers, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman locked up through at least the next three years while pitchers Jose Urquidy, Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia and sluggers Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez are each either under team control or arbitration-eligible through at least 2025.
Translation: Aside from needing to replace/re-sign Carlos Correa this offseason and closer Ryan Pressly after next season, they don't have any major contract decisions to make in the next few years that would be negatively impacted by adding Bumgarner.
What can Houston—a franchise without so much as a single top 100 prospect—actually offer aside from salary relief, though? Well, that's for Arizona to answer, but maybe a trio of triple-A lottery tickets would do the trick.